Plato Assignments


For the last week. Read the Symposium and "The Definition of Love in Plato's Symposium," by Donald Levy, and Vlastos article (once it's up).

Some things to think about (here are the sorts of things I'd ask for papers0

  1. How does love for a particular beautiful body help one eventually ascend to a vision of Beautiful Itself, according to Diotima? Explain and evaluate her account.
  2. Why would one be completely happy (and virtuous) if one had a vision of the Beautiful Itself, according to Diotima? Explain and evaluate her account.
  3. Vlastos objects to the sort of regard that one has for the beloved on the Symposium account of love nad its role in attaining happiness. Explain and evaluate His objection.

4/16. Read the rest of the Theaetetus.
4/14. Read Theaetetus up through 187a.
For 4/9. Read up to 179b.

Paper (Zurawski).

  1. Set out and evaluate Socrates' refutation of the Protagorean 'man-measure' doctrine, based upon predictions about the future.
  2. Set out and evaluate Socrates' comparison (in the digression) of the two types of lives.


For 4/7. Read the Theatetus up until 171d, plus Burnyeat's paper on the Theatetus. (We'll also wrap up Book X of the republic)

Paper topics (Wojcik):

  1. Briefly explain why Protagoras' position seems to deny that any person is wiser than another. How does Protagoras respond to this charge (in his 'defense'), and how does Socrates try to rebut this defense? Do you think that this charge against Protagoras (that his position entails that there are not differences in wisdom) is cogent, or not?

  2. Reading: Th. 170a-171d. Protagoras says that "man is the measure of all things," and this Protagorean position eventually gets fleshed out as "things are for every man what they seem to him to be." Why does Socrates think that this position contradicts itself? Do you agree with Socrates? Why, or why not?


For 4/2. Read book 10 of the Republic and Annas' paper "Plato's Myths of Judgement." Papers (Walden): One of the topics below if we haven't already covered that material in class on Monday. Or write about the Myth of Er and/or Annas' paper on Plato's myths of judgement. Some questions regarding this that you may wish to address:


For 3/31.

Reading: Books 8 and 9 of the Republic, plus the article by Richard Kraut. We'll also be discussing the Cave and the philosophers' education on Monday.

Papers (Thornton):

  1. (519d ff.) Socrates says that the philosophers must be made to return to 'the cave,' even though they don't want to. Consider some of the following questions in relation to this passage (whichever you'd like): why don't the philosophers want to return? Why do they return nonetheless? Does having the philosophers 'return to the cave' introduce problems for Socrates' account of justice, since it seems that it isn't in the interest of the philosopher, in this case, to do what is just?
  2. Explain some part of Socrates' educational program for the philosophers (521c ff.) and why he proposes it, and then evaluate his arguments for setting up this part of the curriculum as he does.
  3. (537d ff.) Why does Socrates restrict 'dialectic' only to a few people, and then only for those at least 30 years old? What are the dangers of dialectic, as described by Socrates? Do you agree with him?
  4. Pick one of the states, or one of the corresponding types of soul that Socrates talks about. Describe his account of what that type of soul/state is like, and why that type of soul (or state) is bad (and why, in the case of the souls, it's bad for you to be that sort of person). Then ask: is this a psychologically/politically plausible portrait, and does he show that the ideal soul/state is better than the one he describes?
  5. Pick one of the transitions from one of the sorts of soul (or state) to the next. Describe how and why it happens, according to Socrates. Is the account convincing?
  6. Justice and happiness in the individual. Explain and evaluate one the proofs that the just person is the happiest, or that the just person’s life is more pleasant than the unjust person’s life.
  7. Richard Kraut. According to Kraut, why is the Form of the Good really crucial to Plato's defense of justice? Is he right?
  8. Something else (your choice).

For 3/24 and 3/26.

Read book 5 of the Republic 471c to the end, Book 6, and book 7 of the Republic to 519b. Paper (6010 Session Latta; Tues. Scarpone, Thurs. Seals)

  • Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments why there are distinct parts of the soul.
  • What is justice (in the individual), according to Socrates, and why does he say this? Is he right?
  • Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?
  • Why does Sachs think that Plato's argument is fallacious? Is he right?
  • Why should philosophers rule, according to Socrates? Do you agree? Why, or why not? (NB: keep in mind what Socrates says about who are the true philosophers, vs. those who are presently called philosophers.)

  • What is the difference between the 'lovers of sights and sounds' and the philosophers? Why do the lovers and sights and sounds have only opinion and not knowledge?

  • Why does Socrates think that knowledge of the 'form of the good' is the highest sort of knowledge?


    Possible papers, Margulis:
    1. Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments why there are distinct parts of the soul.
    2. What is justice (in the individual), according to Socrates, and why does he say this? Is he right?
    3. Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?
    4. Why does Sachs think that Plato's argument is fallacious? Is he right?

    For 3/12. Read book 4 of the Republic and David Sach's article, "A Fallacy in Plato's Republic."

    Possible papers, Lotze (earlier topics would be better, as we're more likely to get to that material, but write on any you wish):

    1. Are the people of the ideal Republic happy? Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments for why they are.
    2. Is the ideal Republic just? Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments for why it is. What is justice (in the city), according to Socrates? (Alternative topic: give and evaluate Socrates' argument for why it has one of the other virtues.)
    3. Give and evaluate Socrates' arguments why there are distinct parts of the soul.
    4. What is justice (in the individual), according to Socrates, and why does he say this? Is he right?
    5. Is justice an intrinsic good for you (if Socrates is right about what justice is)? Why does Glaucon think that it is? Is he right?
    6. Why does Sachs think that Plato's argument is fallacious? Is he right?


    For 3/10. Read the rest of Book 2 of the Republic, and all of book 3. Also, C.C.W. Taylor's article, "Plato's Totalitarianism."

    Papers (Collins; Clewell for 6010 session on Monday, do previous Book II topics):

    1. (376ff.) Why does Socrates advocate censoring the stories of Hesiod and Homer, and how does his proposed censorship relate to his educational proposals? Do you agree with his proposal? Why, or why not?
    2. 378ff: Why does Socrates' say that the stories of Hesiod and Homer are harmful lies? What argument does he give for his own conception of the gods, at 379b ff? Do you agree with his arguments? Why, or why not?
    3. (412 b ff.) How are the rulers of the cities chosen, and why? Do you agree with this method (and rationale) for choosing the rulers? Why, or why not?
    4. (414c ff.) Explain the myth of the metals. Why does Socrates propose promulgating it? Is it justified? Why, or why not?
    5. What kind of totalitarian state does Taylor say the Republic is, and why? Do you think he's right to classify the Republic in this way?
    6. Taylor says that an important problem with Plato's theory of the ideal state is that it does not include any substantial measure of autonomy in its specification of the good life. Explain what he measn by this and why he thinks it. Then say whether you agree with him on this.


    For 2/26. Read Book 2 of the Republic, up to 369b.

    Possible paper topics (Braun):

    1. What would you do if you had the Ring of Gyges, and why would you do it? (I'm looking for a justification here, not an explanation.) If you'd choose to do something that would be considered unjust, what do you think Socrates' strongest argument against you doing so would be, based on what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Socrates? If you would not do something unjust, what do you think Thrasymachus would say against you, based upon what he says in Book I of the Republic? How would you respond to Thrasymachus?
    2. What is Glaucon's explanation of the origin of justice, and why does he thinks that a consequence of this explanation is that justice is only a 'second best'? Is he right about how and why people invented justice, and is he right about the implications of his position?

    For 2/24. No new reading. Finish up Book I of the Republic. Paper (Zurawski): same topics as for 2/19, but something on Thrasymachus and/or Socrates' objections to him. Anything from Annas or Barney that strikes your fancy is fine.
    For 2/19. Read Book 1 of the Republic and Annas' article on it (on eReserve). Also helpful is this entry on Callicles and Thrasymachus.

    Possible papers (Wojcik):

    1. Briefly summarize one of Socrates' objections to either the definition of justice given by Cephalus or by Polemarchus. Do you believe that Socrates' refutation is convincing? Why, or why not?

    2. Briefly summarize one of the arguments that Thrasymachus gives for injustice being more profitable, or one of Socrates' arguments for justice being more profitable. Do you find the argument cogent? Why, or why not? If you wish to, you can also give your own views about which (if either) is more profitable, and why.
    3. Pretty wide open: if anything that Annas brought up strikes your fancy, feel free to write on it.
    For 2/17. Read the Clitophon and my notes on it. (If you'd prefer, I also have a version of the notes as a word document if you want to download that.)

    Paper (Walden, for 6010 Rick Latta):

    1. Explain and evaluate one of Clitophon's arguments against one of the definitions of justice (or of its product) offered by the companions of Socrates.
    2. Do you think that Clitophon is right that Socrates is a hindrance to the pursuit of virtue (for those who are already eager to obtain it)? Why do you think he says this? Is he right?
    3. Anything else that strikes your fancy.

    For 2/10 and 2/12. Read the rest of the Phaedo, plus Vlastos' article, "Reasons and Causes in the Phaedo." Possible papers (None on Tuesday, Steven Thornton for Thursday):
    1. (reading Phaedo 96b-99d): Why does Socrates say that the explanations given by the 'wisdom they call natural science' are inadequate? (BTW, Socrates most likely has in mind here the sort of explanations of natural phenomena given by the pre-Socratics.) What sort of explanations would be more adequate, according to Socrates, and why? Do you agree with Socrates that explanations of 'natural science' (as Socrates uses the term) are inadequate in the case of (1) natural phenomena like the position of the earth, and (2) human action, like Socrates sitting and talking to his friends in prison? Why or why not?
    2. Anything from Vlastos--pretty wide open--on the sense in which forms explain things.
    3. Explain and evaluate the cogency of some part of Socrates' final argument for the soul's immortality.
    4. (reading Phaedo 80c-84a and 107c-115a): Briefly give, in your own words, the main upshot of Socrates' myths about the fate of the soul with regard to (1) how one ought to live one's life, and (2) how these recommendations about how to live one's life are connected with the afterlife one will have. Think about the following questions: (1) Is virtue an instrumental or intrinsic good, according to Socrates' account? (2) Do you have any objections to Socrates' recommendations?
    5. Reading Bostock 894-898 plus Phaedo 68C5-69D2. After characterizing the moral implications what Socrates says about the soul and the body, Bostock complains that Plato's doctrine of 'true virtue' is 'doubly wrong.' Explain how it is 'doubly wrong,' according to Bostock, and evaluate one or the other of his complaints against Plato.
    6. Reading: Bostock section E. Bostock raises a number of difficulties for Plato's view that a person survives his death because his soul survives his death, in a cycle of reincarnation. Explain and evaluate one or more of his arguments.

    2/5. Read the Phaedo through 95, plus the Bostock article.

    Possible paper topics (pick one); Szegda

    Discuss and evaluate one of the following arguments:

    1. The Affinity argument for the immortality of the soul.
    2. The discussion of the fate of the soul as dependent on the type of life it has led
    3. Simmias' "harmony" theory of the soul, as an objection to Socrates' affinity argument.
    4. One of Socrates' objections to the harmony theory.
    5. Something from Bostock's piece (pretty wide open)

    For 2/3

    We'll start by talking about Gentzler's article (and the closing myth of the Gorgias), then... Read the Phaedo up until 70a. However, the reading response paper will cover 64-68.

    Reading response paper (Seals):

    Why does Socrates say that (i) philosophy is training for dying, and that (ii) the body is an obstacle to attaining knowledge? If any of Socrates' argument seems either obscure or misguided, say where and why.

    If you wish to write on one of the Genztler/myth/Socrates as true politician topics below, that's OK too.


    For 1/27 and 1/29. Read Gentzler's article, and the rest of the Gorgias.

    Papers (1/27, Scarpone 1/29 Schaffer. 6010 session paper Glazer)

    1. Explain the distinction between a 'knack' and a 'craft.' Why does Socrates say that oratory is only a knack and not a craft, and why is it shameful? Explain and evaluate what assumptions about human flourishing you think are behind what Socrates says about oratory here.
    2. Explain and evaluate one or more of Socrates' objections to hedonism. If you wish you also explore the question of whether these objections refute Callicles position.
    3. In the Gorgias, Socrates gives his positive views on what the good life is and how to achieve it. Explain and evaluate some part of his position and/or his arguments for it.
    4. Why does S say that he is one of the few Atenians who takes up the 'true political craft' and practices the ‘true’ politics? Explain and evaluate what he says.
    5. Some possible topics relating to the Gentzler article:
      1. Explain and evaluate the distinction Gentzler makes between Socratic and sophistic cross-examination.
      2. Are Socrates' arguments against Callicles really sophistic, as Gentzler claims? If you wish, you can concentrate on one argument in particular.
      3. Is there good reason to portray Socrates as being sophistical in order to illustrate the superiority of the philosophical life? What are Gentzler's reasons for thinking this? IS he right?

    For 1/22.

    Please read Gorgias from the beginning through 486e (the end of Callicles' long speech).

    Reading response papers

    1. Explain the distinction between a 'knack' and a 'craft.' Why does Socrates say that oratory is only a knack and not a craft, and why is it shameful? Explain and evaluate what assumptions about human flourishing you think are behind what Socrates says about oratory here.
    2. Why does Polus think that a tyrant like Archelaus is happy? How does Socrates object to Polus' position (and eventually get Polus to recant his position)? Evaluate.
    3. On what grounds does Socrates argue that it's better to be caught and punished if one does wrong rather than getting away scott-free? Evaluate.
    4. Callicles distinguishes between 'natural' and 'conventional' justice. Explain the distinction in your own words and give your own evaluation of some part of what Callicles says.

    For 1/20. Continue the Apology, and re-read Burnyeat's article, "The Impiety of Socrates."

    Reading response papers:

    1. Why does Socrates claim (in 29e-30b and in 36b-37a) that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens? What is his argument (or what are his arguments) for this? What assumptions does he make? Give and analyze the cogency of Socrates' argument.

    2. In 30b and following, Socrates makes the following claims: "If they kill me, they will harm themselves more than if they harm me," "A better man cannot harm a worse man," and "I am defending myself not for my own sake but for theirs." These claims seem incredible, as Socrates well knew, and would have seemed so to the members of the jury also. Give Socrates' reasons for one of these claims (put this in your own words, as much as possible). Evaluate his arguments and his claim. (NOTE: he doesn't produce a simple argument for these claims when he makes them, but evidence for why he says these things can be found elsewhere in the dialogue, e.g., 39a-b is especially relevant.)

    3. What is Socrates' argument for why there is good reason to think that death is a blessing (in 40c and following)? Give it (in the form of a numbered argument is OK) and evaluate it.

    4. Burnyeat argues that there is some reason to find Socrates guilty of the charges against him. Give and analyze one of his argumetns in favor of this (and discuss something else he says).

    For 1/15. Read the Apology, and Burnyeat's article, "The Impiety of Socrates." (on eReserve):

    Reading response papers (Kendal Lotze)

    1. Why does Socrates claim (in 29e-30b and in 36b-37a) that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens? What is his argument (or what are his arguments) for this? What assumptions does he make? Give and analyze the cogency of Socrates' argument.

    2. In 30b and following, Socrates makes the following claims: "If they kill me, they will harm themselves more than if they harm me," "A better man cannot harm a worse man," and "I am defending myself not for my own sake but for theirs." These claims seem incredible, as Socrates well knew, and would have seemed so to the members of the jury also. Give Socrates' reasons for one of these claims (put this in your own words, as much as possible). Evaluate his arguments and his claim. (NOTE: he doesn't produce a simple argument for these claims when he makes them, but evidence for why he says these things can be found elsewhere in the dialogue, e.g., 39a-b is especially relevant.)

    3. What is Socrates' argument for why there is good reason to think that death is a blessing (in 40c and following)? Give it (in the form of a numbered argument is OK) and evaluate it.

    4. Burnyeat argues that there is some reason to find Socrates guilty of the charges against him. Give and analyze one of his argumetns in favor of this (and discuss something else he says).

    For 1/13. Re-read the Euthyphro, and read Vlastos' article, "Socratic Piety" (on eReserve).

    Response paper topics (Erick Braun, write on one; everybody else post a response to one of these papers):

    1. Look at one the definitions of piety that Euthyphro offers, or that Socrates offers on his behalf, that we have not yet covered:
      • "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d)
      • "Piety is the part of justice that is concerned with the care of the gods." (12e)
      Explain on what grounds Socrates objects to this definition. Do you find the objection convincing? Why, or why not?
    2. Consider Socrates' objection to the following definition of piety: "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d) Does his objection show that a Divine Command theory of ethics is false: that is, a theory according to which morally wrong actions are wrong because God prohibits them, and morally obligatory actions are obligatory because God commands them? Why, or why not? Defend your answer against objections.
    3. Vlastos claims that if we look, we can discern a positive Socratic version of piety in the Euthyphro, whereas the introduction to the dialogue says that Socrates ‘has in advance no answer of his own to test out or to advocate.” Either write about which view seems to be the proper understanding/interpretation of the text, and why, or about the cogency of 'Socratic piety' as an understanding of what piety is, apart from issues of its adequacy as an interpretation of the Euthyphro (and related dialogues).

    For 1/8. Read the Euthyphro. (Here is an on-line version) Also read also read the Euthyphro objection to the divine command theory and the following summary of some of the issues with the Euthyphro.. Paper (Drew Collins):

    (1) Look at the definitions of piety that Euthyphro offers, or that Socrates offers on his behalf:

    Explain on what grounds Socrates objects to this definition. Do you find the objection convincing? Why, or why not?

    We will probably discuss this second topic more next week.but you may write on it if you wish.

    (2) Consider Socrates' objection to the following definition of piety: "What all the gods hate is impious, and what all the gods love is pious." (9d) Does his objection show that a Divine Command theory of ethics is false: that is, a theory according to which morally wrong actions are wrong because God prohibits them, and morally obligatory actions are obligatory because God commands them? Why, or why not? Defend your answer against objections.



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